With summer in full swing, Dr. Ronald Hoffman points to key nutraceuticals for skin protection.
While sunscreen is a critical defense for the skin against the harmful rays of the sun, key nutritional ingredients can also provide protection.
“After a bitter, interminable winter, many of us are facing the onslaught of UV rays without a basecoat of skin pigment, rendering us more susceptible to solar damage and skin cancer risk,” cautioned Dr. Ronald Hoffman, a complementary medicine practitioner and director of the NYC-based Hoffman Center for Integrative Medicine.
He added, “Notwithstanding the benefits of endogenous vitamin D production with sun exposure, there are real risks from excessive UV rays—skin cancer of course, but also degradation of superficial collagen which leads to prematurely wrinkled, leathery skin.”
Dr. Hoffman examined the science of nutraceutical skin protectants in his recent article “10 natural sun-care supplements you may not have heard of,” (drhoffman.com) offering insight into what supplements consumers can use as a second line of defense against the sun. The following slideshow outlines his recommendations for ingredients that can protect our skin from the sun.
In his review, Dr. Hoffman suggested that plants also need to protect themselves from the damaging effects of UV rays, “so it stands to reason they contain powerful natural antioxidants that quench free radicals.” This is the idea behind the supplement Heliocare, which uses the extract of Polypodium leucotomos (PLE), a fern native to Central and South America. Dr. Hoffman noted that this plant “has been used for centuries as a remedy for skin related conditions.”
Vitamin B3, or niacinamide, can also offer skin support. “While niacinamide is not typically considered an antioxidant, it plays a role in stabilizing DNA replication,” explained Dr. Hoffman. “Coding mistakes in sun-zapped genetic material results in mutations in cell lines that can lead to skin cancer.” While high doses of B3 may not be the right fit for everyone, it has been found helpful for those who require frequent “barnacle scrapings” at the dermatologist, he said.
“Among the most potent of the carotenoid antioxidants, astaxanthin has been heralded as an ‘internal sunscreen.’ When taken in sufficient amounts, it literally increases skin pigmentation, offering a natural sunshield, albeit producing a slightly orange coloration,” said Dr. Hoffman.
The antioxidant power of lycopene also boasts benefits for skin protection. “Another member of the carotenoid family, tomatoes and watermelon are rich natural sources of this potent antioxidant,” he explained. “Research demonstrates that simply eating tomato paste daily for 10 weeks reduced sunburn by a whopping 40%.”
“Since vitamin E is a potent antioxidant, it makes sense to consider it as part of your skin-shield portfolio,” stated Dr. Hoffman. He pointed to a 2000 study that demonstrated vitamin E could mitigate solar damage, while providing additional benefits when used with beta-carotene.
Avoiding the sun completely isn’t necessarily the best solution for skin cancer protection, warned Dr. Hoffman. “After one’s first brush with skin cancer, the frequently heard admonition is ‘avoid sun exposure,’” he said. “This may paradoxically compound the risk of subsequent skin cancers. Vitamin D is a potent inhibitor of cancer, and researchers are now trying to ‘tweak’ its chemical structure to devise anti-skin cancer drugs. Maintenance of adequate vitamin D is even thought to play a role in melanoma prevention.”
Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) from green tea has been shown to have generalized anti-cancer effects, noted Dr. Hoffman. “Clinical trials are underway to establish whether topical application of EGCG can retard the progression of basal cell skin cancer; it’s unclear whether taking it orally has the same effect.”
A popular ingredient to watch, this potent botanical benefits a variety of health conditions, in addition to benefiting skin health. “With its well-documented anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects, curcumin, a purified derivative of turmeric, is a promising nutraceutical for solar protection. Test-tube experiments show that it can halt replication of melanoma cells; curcumin creams have been touted for reversing skin damage caused by UV exposure as well as for protecting cancer-prone skin,” stated Dr. Hoffman.
"An extract of the bark of the French maritime pine grown in Southern France, a region of blistering sunlight, Pycnogenol is rich in antioxidant proanthocyanidins," explained Dr. Hoffman. Topical use of Pycnogenol after UV exposure has been shown to minimize inflammation, swelling and redness of the skin.
Grapeseed extract also holds significant promise for protecting skin from the sun’s rays. Dr. Hoffman pointed to a study using hairless mice exposed to UV radiation that suggested, “oral supplementation [of grapeseed extract] reduced the incidence and severity of skin cancers.”